(Updated Thursday, 6:35 p.m. with a comment from Mayor Richard Moccia.)
NORWALK, Conn. – The hour was late, the room was beginning to empty, but newly minted Norwalk Democratic candidate for mayor Harry Rilling was still going strong, posing for pictures, shaking hands and making time for interviews.
Rilling was flying high on the wings of a nearly 28-point victory in Tuesday’s Democratic mayoral primary. His 1,703 votes far outpaced second-place finisher Vinny Mangiacopra, who had 781. In fact, Rilling outpolled all three of his competitors combined by 79 votes.
Rilling took the opportunity to begin running his general election campaign, elaborating on some of his favorite themes to a small group of reporters, and making the point that a Rilling administration would be a kinder, gentler administration.
“I was embarrassed that somebody comes to the podium at a Common Council meeting and they’re disagreeing with what’s going on and they are publicly criticized for it,” he said. “That will not be what I do.
“I believe in having a government that’s accessible,” he continued. “When I was police chief, if somebody called me they’d either get a callback from me or somebody in my department. You’re a servant of the people. … You’re elected by the people, all people regardless of their political persuasion.”
In his victory speech, Rilling had said his campaign had stayed on message and had remained positive. Later, he said he planned to do the same in his run against Moccia, because that is what the people want.
“I walked all over city, talked to many people, and people are tired of incivility,” he said, “tired of negativism. Negativism is ugly, and people don’t like ugly. And I know that I’m capable of running a civil government. It’s up to everybody else to jump on board and see it’s the only way to go.”
But what if things take a negative turn?
Rilling did not pause. “If somebody gets negative, the best way is to just ignore it and just take the high road,” he said.
Contacted by NancyOnNorwalk, Moccia congratulated Rilling on his win.
“I congratulate him and look forward to a campaign based on the issues,” he said. “I believe that this administration has a story to tell of success and we will get that message to the voters.”
Mangiacopra had stopped by earlier, with backers and Democratic Common Council members David Watts and Warren Peña, to congratulate the winner. Matt Miklave and Andy Garfunkel did not. Garfunkel, who ran against Moccia in 2011, told NancyOnNorwalk he would have to think about whether he would support the Democratic candidate. Mangiacopra avoided the question despite giving an unequivocal “yes” during the campaign, saying he planned to work hard to get under-ticket Dems elected. And Miklave said he hoped to be able to work with Rilling on some ideas.
“I congratulate Harry Rilling on running an excellent campaign and I look forward to an interesting contest in the fall,” Miklave said at Norwalk Inn, where he received the results. “Harry and I had a good conversation and we have agreed to sit down and talk in the future. Hopefully we’ll have a productive discussion.”
Watts, the Common Council minority leader, said he would support Rilling.
“He’s going to be the Democratic nominee and, as the minority leader, I’ve always said this is nothing but a playoff. Now we have to organize the team for the big game.”
Watts said that it might take a little while for those who supported other candidates to come around.
“Just like any other primary, people have some raw feelings,” the Mangiacopra supporter said. “Obviously, we all wish the outcome was different. Now Harry is our nominee and we have to work hard to get him elected. I indicated that to him, that we will give him all our resources. We’ll do what we can to pull out all the stops to see that he is elected. We’re not going to miss a beat.”
Rilling said he wants to work with the other candidates.
“I would hope we can all sit down and share ideas. Everybody can think of something, but nobody can think of everything,” he said. “This is a team approach, and I hope we can band together as a team… and share our ideas. They did have some good ideas in their campaigns, and we take the best of the best.”
One idea he singled out was a centerpiece of the Garfunkel campaign – charter revision.
“I certainly think it’s time for a charter review commission, to see what changes might be needed,” he said. “It’s high on my agenda. Looking at the cost of government is high on my agenda. Looking at different positions, perhaps there’s some duplication of effort – there could be some job consolidations.”
Rilling said the city needs a mayor that gets out in front of Norwalk’s needs and confronts them before they become problems. “We need a mayor that sees what’s coming down the road and uses the mayor’s office to work with other organizations, works with the Common Council, works with the Board of Estimate, works with the Board of Education, seeing what’s coming down the road and getting involved early on so he can make a difference, facilitate some sort of consensus and agreement.”
Answering a question about his plan to add four police officers a year for five years to bring the department strength up to just over 200 – a plan he formulated when he was chief – he said the department is currently authorized to have 181 officers but is running shorthanded due to retirements and trouble getting potential officers into the police academy. He wants to get the department up to its authorized strength.
His five-year plan, he said, was based on the city’s planned developments that would bring more residents and business and require more services. However, he said, those projects – Wall Street, Waypointe, 95/7 – stalled, putting the need for services on hold. Those developments, he said, would have generated tax revenue for the city that would have paid for more police officers.
“We can’t overtax citizens,” he said. “We have to bring in a revenue stream before we can add services.”